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Over The Top !

When we bought our little place in Bellebouche over 9 years ago, we knew that at some point, the roofs of the outbuildings would need replacing.  We fixed up the pigeonnier in 2005 as this was particularly dangerous.

The other roofs were OK, but not brilliant – the best of  them being the Grange where an old stock pile of hay had been stored and the remnants still remained.  The corner of this roof, over the last 8 years had deteriorated.  The main concern was with the centre barn which had partially collapsed along the apex,  allowing the weather into the main barn.  The left hand barn roof had collapsed in a couple of areas and the right hand barn was going in the same direction.

Something had to be done.  Over the last 3 years I had got quotes off various artisans for the whole works – on the premise of  replacing all the old under tiles with new ones and using the original old terracota tiles on top.  After speaking to a number of artisans, we came to the conclusion that what was best was modern tiles which all fit together in a lego fashion, so should be totally sturdy and not fly off in a high wind – which we are prone to in the winter.

This year we took the bull by the horns, agreed on a roofer and signed a deal for all the outbuildings to be re-roofed.  Early March a team of workmen arrived with heavy plant machinery and pallets of wood and tiles.  Scaffolding was put up around the grange and the right hand barn.

This is a photo of the grange roof when we first moved in to Bellebouche.  Seems in good condition and water tight. Over the years the far left hand corner, you can see the green on the wall, started to leak a little .


A day after all the workmen had arrived, all the tiles, lathes and old voliges were off !  The tops of the walls were fixed and levelled off  and a few chevrons replaced.  Next new voliges, membrane, lathes and then the new tiles.


The smell of the new voliges was lovely – like being in a sawmill !

Even though we had fixed the pigeonnier a few years back – to keep all the roofs at the same standard with the same tiles, we decided to have it re-roofed again.  It was the smallest roof of all the buildings and only took the builders 2 days to replace.  Next up was the two story high, centre barn.  As I stated before, the apex had almost gone and I was surprised that the workmen put up a net across the whole roof to catch any falling debris – I was fine, even during high winds and snow, walking underneath it, throughout the years !



After the centre barn the left hand barn/secret room roof was removed.  Now access to this part of the barn, I thought, would be a problem.  Foolish me, with a telescopic Manitou there was no problem at all !

Once all the tiles and voliges were removed it was obvious that the state of the old oak chevrons was going to be a problem.



80% of the chevrons were either rotten or in a very poor state.  For a new roof, the roof line had to be laser straight perfect.  So all the chevrons were removed, the walls fixed and levelled and new chevrons installed.




This is the roof with the levelled walls, new chevrons, voliges, membrane and lathes fitted.

To add to the problems, I had bought 2 large roof windows to be installed at the back, in the secret room.  It took the workmen 3 days to install the two windows.


But the light in this room is now amazing.  We will eventually put french windows in, opening onto the courtyard and our swimming pool!

Next up – the right hand barn.  I thought that this was in a worse state than the left hand but only 20% of the chevrons were rotten.




Now in May and the workmen proceeded on – the atteliers were next up.  These are not just workshops, they are three “rooms” with external doors but right at the end is the bread oven, which is accessed from inside the house.




The roof had become a bit of a garden due to the pine needles  from the christmas tree falling on top of it.  The old tiles were just resting on top of the bread oven roof, which was basically old rocks, soil and rubble.  When the old tiles and wood were removed, major work had to be done.  The new tiles are all of a certain size and fit together so the roof of the  bread oven had to be levelled to allow the tiles to be fitted.

Due to the nature of a bread oven becoming very hot when lit, wooden chevrons and lathes could not be used.  So concrete laths were made in situ and part chevrons – just at the edges – with metal covered ends were fitted.




The inside of the atteliers was also a problem.  All the main A frame beams had to be replaced, one of which would be fitted into the house wall and potentially through the chimney in the front.  After serious discussions with the builders, a solution was agreed to fit a metal shoe to the end of the frame, fitted through into the chimney.


The last building to be done was the stable block.  Seemed like a simple job but once work had started on it, it became apparent that the roof line was not exactly straight and resulted in a triangle of  roof causing a problem.

When we first were looking to get the roofs done we went to see a farm complex the roofers had done – to see the quality of their work.  One particular thing that did catch our eye was a large triangle of zinc on one of the buildings.  The roofer explained that the roof line had not been straight and due to the fact that the tiles are all standard and fitted together like lego it was not possible to cut the tiles to cover that area.

When they started work on our place we stated that we did not want any zinc patch ups.  But, the stables were causing some consternation.  They tried extending the roof line out so that no tiles needed to be cut.  Unfortunately this would have resulted in the roof hanging over the road so was not possible.  After discussing with the roofers our options we came up with the idea of putting a zinc triangle on the roof then covering it with the tiles cut. The tiles would not provide a water tight covering but the zinc underneath would.


Finally, after almost 2 months of work – the roofs are finished.  The zinc flashing and  nantaise guttering complete the look.


Some of the downpipes are not exactly where we wanted them – to collect the water in our water collection system – and we had to back down on a few areas.  It has not been without problems, arguments, shouting, stress and a  few sleepless nights.

Overall, we are pleased with the standard and quality of the work – the roofs and buildings will outlive us !

It has been a while …

It has been a while since we last posted on our blog. Winter is normally a quiet time of year, we tend to hunker down and nest over most of this season. But, things have been happening.

Firstly – what seemed like a lifetime ago … and it felt like it took that length of time to finish – we had the ardoise roof replaced. After delays in obtaining the zinc ridge, the roof was finally crowned at the beginning of October 2010. We are totally water tight for the first time ever in this house! The finishing touch is our wonderful copper cockerel weathervane.

Finished Slate Roof with Cockerel

Water Tight At Last !

Our friendly farmer delights in telling me, every time I see him, that he looks at our cockerel every day to see what the weather is going to bring. He finds it amusing that we don’t see the girouette ourselves unless we are down the garden or visiting him and he always ends by saying “he doesn’t sing very well does he?”.

Now the next step. Insulating the vast space upstairs and plasterboarding it, ready to convert the area into various rooms.

Well, the first step was to move all the boxes and furniture out of the main grenier and into the lower back portion of the roof. It took me over a day and at times my language was quite colourful – especially after I had banged my head for the umpteenth time on the low doorway into the back. I was amazed at the number of boxes we had – two countries, two houses – now all in the back roof – it just swallowed it all up!

Empty Space

Notice the empty floor !

Great – now lets get the workmen in. Wrong. Preparation needed.

All the wonderful old oak beams were covered in decades of dust and grime. I sent Adrian up to the highest ridge beams to deal with them while I dealt with the lower down ones.

Adrian up in the ridge

Don't look down !

We used thick nylon brush wheels attached to a drill to clean off the surface without too much damage being done to the wood. After burning out one drill, purchasing a new one, only the beams which will be partially covered by plasterboard were now almost ready.

Clean Brushed Wood

The True Colours Showing Through After Brushing

Next step, and not my favourite at all – spraying all the beams with a toxic chemical to kill off any wood boring bugs. Dressed in old jeans, t-shirt, shower cap, goggles, mask and rubber gloves – I sprayed the whole inside roof area from top to bottom (gravity helped here!). I needed to stop frequently to demist my goggles as the spray showered down on me and to pop outside to gulp lungs full of fresh air. Everywhere got a good soaking and it was amazing to see how many dead shield beetles and other insects collected on the floor over night. This wood will not need treating again in our lifetime-  neither will I – I will be able to sleep well at night knowing I won’t be attacked by woodworm!

Final stage – almost – the beams which will be partially covered by the plasterboard needed a coat of something. Having researched for the right finish and product – tins of tinted wax were bought and Adrian was again sent up to the highest beams to paint on the wax while I did the remaining lower down ones.

Feeling like Daniel Larusso from The Karate Kid – wax on wax off – the beams were totally transformed.

Finished wood

The True Beauty Of The Oak !

Now can we get the workmen in? – Nope – electrics need putting in place for the lights.  We spent a day planning where the lights would potentially go and Adrian once again scaled up to the very ridge and drilled through the main beams to hide the cabling.  We have thought of every combination of lighting set up for the landing and our bedroom and couldn’t quite agree on the guest rooms so put in a variety of options just in case.

Electrics for Lights

Difference between prepped and unprepped oak beams.

Now – the workmen are in and the insulation and boarding is going up – watch this space …

A New Outlook Continued …

The original windows of the house were in such a poor state – draughty, fragile and covered in thick, dark, ugly brown gloss paint, that their replacement was inevitable.

The upstairs windows were the first to go.   Looking back – 29/12/2007 – OMG how time flies!


All change up top

We’ve been on radio silence for a while but don’t equate silence with idleness! Quite the opposite. It’s been a long time coming but a new roof is underway. Thanks largely to the catalyst of Tempete Xynthia back at the end of February.

So, from February to July…. how does it take so long.

It took three weeks to even get someone to come out. Of course several hundred thousand other people also wanted a roofer.

Then one joker didn’t even get up on a ladder to have a look, just walked around the garden and had a look from a distance. His quote? €70.

Finally, a competent guy, did a proper survey, actually had a look at the damage, gave us the bad news. It needed replacing. The storm had pulled up the laths from the chevrons… so whilst the roof was on the house it wasn’t actually, you know – really on. Just sat there. New slates and stainless crochets were the prescription.

Then we submit a claim to the insurance company. They’re deluged. Our claim is so large they need to send along a specialist assessor/engineer. The wait time for this guy? Another month.

He turned up, spoke rapid fire double-quick Parisian engineer talk. His verdict… yes, you need a new roof. One hour later, one coffee and my best french negociating hat on and I sign up a deal with the company. The cheque will be with us in ‘a few days’. A few days turns into almost 4 weeks. Further negotiations with the roofing contractor and we strike up a deal.

Can we fix a date? ‘Impossible’ because he can’t forecast the weather of course and then there is the small matter of his vacances en Angleterre. To go and see Mark Knopfler and drink English Beer! Heroic!

The down time allows us to start the search for a new Girouette – a weather vane. The old one had mostly rotted away and all that remained of the grisly hunting scene it depicted looked a little forlorn. Find a company that do beautiful hand made Coqs up in the Loire valley. That’ll be the best part of €1000 please sir! The search continues. Two visits to local artisans turned up not much else. One guy sold some that were from italy – €477 and another made them but wanted €800, maybe. If he could be bothered. Thanks but no thanks. A quick scout on ebay and we turned up a magnificent magnificent fella and a snip at €129! Pics to follow soon.

So, work commences in the middle of June and it’s all very exciting. Until midway on day two when we learn that the wood which the storm had pulled away from the house was not really salvageable. Despite numerous prior assesments of its condition. The next day new wood arrives and is laid and over the course of the next week the back face of the house is complete. It turns out that the structural state of the exterior walls wasn’t up to scratch so I stepped in to repair them. Not the easiest of jobs and it cost me 34 man hours of my time over a couple of weekends. 1m3 of sand and 350kg of lime. Heavy work having to mix, lift, shift, carry, lay granite and remortar the old blockwork in but a once in a lifetime chance to fix it all. I’ve got some heinous lime burns on my arms as there was nothing for it – working up on top of the house in 32 degree heat was a killer. I’d never been so exhausted in all my life – it was brutally punishing.

And now, this last week a lot of the finer detail that we’d paid for starts to appear- a ‘Nantaise’ style set of guttering is all hand cut, laid and soldered up. New zinc is shining and it’s starting to look really good.

Removing the old gutter has revealed a pretty architectural detail of the house that was previously hidden so I’ve spent my third weekend up the scaffolding drilling out, polishing up and repointing the ancient terracotta bricks and canal tile that acts as the fascia that’s crowning the house.

The new roof is 3/4 on now and looks fine – it’ll never be perfect of course as it’s gone onto an old house but it’s been a long time coming… another week from now and we should be all done.

I’ll update with pics when the job is finished.

Steaming black leviathan

Not quite the normal picturesque view we enjoy on the terrace….


She said “There’s something in the wood shed”

Having just about finished all the wood we chopped in previous years, it was time to purchase some more wood to keep us warm for the rest of this winter and for next winter too. Things are not just that simple though. We had to tidy up the right hand barn before re-stocking it full of wood. (more…)

Snowy Day

Sub zero temperatures have been with us for a few days with last night dipping to a chilly -9. We had a smattering of snow but nothing quite as spectacular as the great ice storm of 2006.

The place does look pretty in snow… and I don’t need much of an excuse to take some snaps!

A photoset of a snowy Bellebouche

There’s a shiny belle with a shady bouche, there’s more where that came from – click the photo for the full slideshow.

Now… hot coffee, dunky biscuits and more logs on the fire are required.

A new outlook

Making the most of the Christmas downtime I turned my hand to a little carpentry, stone masonry and wildlife conservation. All in an afternoons work!


Smoked Salmon, Bellebouche Style

Few finer breakfasts exist than a bit of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. We’ve got the home raised eggs sorted… so time for some smoked salmon to accompany!


Did the earth move for you? Dig for Victory part V

It was quite some time ago that I wrote about our intentions to pop in a grey water management system. Well, good things come to those who wait. We’ve had a lot of help on the early stages of this and piece by piece it’s come together nicely. The final payoff for all of this was constructing a reedbed.


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